That Time I… Volunteered at a low-income primary school

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Printed with permission from D. Galvez Caption: Diego "Martin" Galvez found great joy in teaching and helping underprivileged children in his home country of Ecuador.

Martin Galvez is a freshman biology major from Quito, Ecuador. He is the sports editor at The Current.

In my sophomore and junior years of high school, my class and I were able to volunteer at a low-income middle school close to my high school. We were separated into groups, and each group was given a class. Our main goal was to teach the students about their rights and responsibilities they had as citizens. At first, we were a little puzzled about how we would teach them in way that they would find fun and learn as much as they could. We found this difficult because we were only able to go once every two weeks. Our first topic was about the values the students should apply in their everyday lives.We had two and a half hours where we played icebreakers and then taught them a game in which the main goal was to learn about gender equality.

Aside from teaching them all sorts of skills, we were also with them during their breaks where we could see how they interacted with each other. At first, my peers and I were intimidated by the kids, and vice versa. We didn’t know how to approach each other and socialize in a friendly way. With this being said, the first few weeks were really difficult because they didn’t realize that we were essentially their teachers and they needed to respect us. We ended up talking to them and had a discussion in which they told us that they were like that to their own teachers. We realized that we needed to address that problem and the next time we saw them, we did an activity to teach them the importance of listening and being respectful when others were talking or doing a presentation. Because of this, their teacher told us that they saw an improvement in their behavior, and for the first time, they were paying attention in class and were interested in learning.

As time went by, we started becoming more and more attached to our sixth graders, and during our break periods we started to play with them and they started to open up to us. That’s when my life, and my friends’ lives, changed. Since most of the students that studied in that middle school came from poor families, many of them didn’t have a good family environment and a safe space for them to relax and talk about their problems.

There was a little girl in our class who was very shy and didn’t talk to anyone. At first, we thought that was her personality and how she felt most comfortable. However, as we got closer to her and she started opening up to us, we discovered that she lived with a toxic family. Her mother didn’t care for her, and in school the young girl was often bullied. We couldn’t believe what happened to her, so we talked to our supervisor and told her that we were going to try and do something for the girl since she looked very unhappy. However, though our supervisor was just as concerned as we were, she told us that we couldn’t do anything to help her. We weren’t able to improve the girl’s life.

But, we didn’t give up. Even though we weren’t able to help her with her family issues, we decided that we were going to improve her school life. We started to hang out with her whenever we could. We made a presentation about bullying and how the children could prevent and avoid it. Whenever one of us saw her being bullied, we would intervene and stop it immediately. She got very attached to us and every time we left or came back she would give us a hug. Her whole behavior changed. We knew that we weren’t able to be with her much longer since our time was almost up at the middle school, so we started to help her make friends with her classmates, and later with other kids in her school.

By the time we finished our two-year volunteer program, she was a completely different person. She was no longer shy, but extroverted. She had friends not only in her class, but also from other classes. Most importantly, she was happy and she found a safe space to enjoy her time as kid.

Being able to volunteer in this middle school was a pleasure, and it made me realize how lucky I am. There are so many kids that may be close by and have hard lives, and we could change their lives, even in a small way. This experience made me learn so much about the way of living for so many people and children. If I could, I would do it again. The values I gained from it were unparalleled, and the fact that I was able to make a difference, even just to one person, made it worth it.

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